Reunited Heart returns from hardship strong as ever in Milwaukee, while Joan Jett has a harder night

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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A reunited Heart performs as part of their "Love Alive" tour. Press photos were not permitted for the band's Milwaukee stop at Fiserv Forum Saturday.

After what happened in 2016, it looked like there was no coming back for Heart.

According to court documents, the husband of Ann Wilson choked Nancy Wilson's 16-year-old twin sons, and slapped and punched one of the boys, while backstage at a homecoming show outside Seattle.

Dean Wetter in 2017 pleaded guilty to two counts of fourth-degree assault, receiving a 364-day suspended sentence.

Wilson sisters Ann and Nancy told Rolling Stone the rest of that tour was excruciating, and their relationship in the aftermath was strained. But they’re back on the road now for the “Love Alive” tour, which stopped at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum Saturday, with fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett on the bill.

The family drama that triggered the hiatus never came up in Milwaukee, not surprisingly, but playing this show clearly wasn’t excruciating. The sisters at one point showered each other with glowing adjectives — singer Ann called guitarist Nancy "delightful, delectable, extremely talented and unforgettable" while Nancy said Ann was "irreplaceable" and "magnificent."

But even if you questioned their sincerity, you couldn't deny their chemistry. For a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" — a song Nancy warmly reminisced they used to sing with extended family members — the sisters shared heavenly harmonies. And at the start of "Stairway to Heaven," the five other musicians (largely new or returning to the lineup this year), stayed quiet in the shadows as Nancy and Ann shared a single spotlight, the former on intricate acoustic guitar, the latter performing whimsically on flute. 

Ann Wilson performs at a previous stop of Heart's "Love Alive" tour. Press photography was not permitted at their Fiserv Forum show Saturday.

By the end of Led Zeppelin's epic, it was Ann's voice that soared, complemented by the earthy soul of her husky tone. It was a magnificent and demanding display — it looked like Ann even wiped away a tear with her knuckle after it ended.

Then Ann immediately pushed her voice even further on "Alone."

The bombast of the band was dramatically dialed down for this live rendition, forcing Ann, in a daring and risky move, to carry the drama of the song with her voice. She sounded amazing, and by the end of the 95-minute set, I couldn't recall any other rocker who's been singing songs this challenging for over 40 years who are as consistently strong as Ann was Saturday. Staples like "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You" sounded as though she had just stepped out of the recording studio in 1975.

Nancy was sharp as ever on guitar, from the warm waterfall of notes on acoustic guitar for "Mistral Wind" — a Zeppelin-style slow burner that swelled to the hardest rock song of the night — to the immortal, visceral guitar stomp and wails of show closer "Barracuda." 

Nancy Wilson performs at a previous stop of Heart's "Love Alive" tour. Press photography was not permitted at the band's Fiserv Forum show Saturday.

"Barracuda" as a song is a big part of Heart's legacy — but so is its message. Ann wrote the lyrics as a response to sexist comments she received, and Nancy on Saturday said the inspirational "Little Queen" was autobiographical, after dealing with "slimeball" record executives in the '70s.

"Your crown was tight and heavy on your head," Ann sang Saturday. "But still you danced and you sang."

Heart helped blaze a path for women in rock in the '70s, and we've come a long way since then. But gender inequity in the music industry from systemic sexism still exists, and the work continues to close that gap. It's great to have Heart back, sounding great as ever, still in that fight. 

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, pictured here performing at Waterfest in Oshkosh on July 11, opened for Heart Saturday in Milwaukee. Press photography was not permitted.

Joan Jett and Lucie Silvas Open 

Joan Jett’s been performing for nearly 45 years, but Saturday, she said, was a first — starting the show with some sort of amp or guitar problem that wasn’t easily remedied.

Even with the sound problems, the crowd clearly had fun from the start, but Jett was distracted and flustered by the technical issues. “Cherry Bomb,” her explosive hit with the Runaways, was a dud, and it was only when she put down the guitar, for fourth song “Bad Reputation,” that Jett first seemed present.

About halfway through her hourlong set, the problems seemed to be fixed — or she decided to stop worrying and have fun — and Jett led singalongs for signature renditions of "Rock & Roll" and "Crimson and Clover."

Lucie Silvas talked about wanting to soak in every moment standing on the stage Saturday, which was understandable considering who she was opening for. The genre-jumping British singer-songwriter offered several moments to remember — not only because of her splendid voice, but also because the songs she played were clearly personal. Silvas soulfully sang Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You,” a song she used to sing as a child, and offered a country-leaning original, based on a true story, about a guy who mistakes a woman’s interest in his pot as interest in him on the humorous “Smoking Your Weed.”

The Takeaways

  • Heart hasn’t headlined an arena in this market for a while, and while the upper bowl was curtained off Saturday, the lower bowl was packed.
  • Among the other covers Jett took on Saturday were the Replacements’ ”Androgynous” and Sonny Curtis’ “Love is All Around,” immortalized as the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” theme song. And Heart also covered Yes’ “Your Move” and (briefly) Motown classic “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
  • Funniest exchange heard in the crowd: With rows of people standing up on the floor, the woman seated in front of me repeatedly screamed “Sit the (expletive) down” during a quiet moment in between songs during Jett’s set. In the distance you could hear a woman yell back,  “Shut the (expletive) up.” 

The Set List

1. "Rockin' Heaven Down"

2. "Magic Man"

3. "Love Alive"

4. "Your Move" (Yes cover)

5. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine/Straight On"

6. "The Boxer" (Simon & Garfunkel cover)

7. "These Dreams"

8. "Dog & Butterfly"

9. "Little Queen"

10. "Even It Up"

11. "What About Love" (Toronto cover)

12. "Mistral Wind"

13. "Crazy On You"


14. "Stairway to Heaven" (Led Zeppelin cover)

15. "Alone" (I-Ten cover)

16. "Barracuda"

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

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